"We used to deliver almonds to the huller in bags,” said Todd Browne. "A lot has changed for almond growers."
Todd Browne grew up on a lemon and avocado farm in Ventura County. He was a farm advisor for many years at the Sanger Agricultural Extension office. In 1963, Todd and his wife Nancy purchased a 40-acre piece in Sanger that was planted with peach trees and grapes. Shortly after they moved, Todd planted almonds and is currently on his fourth generation of almond tree plantings for his total of 70 acres.
Todd and Nancy were married for 64 years and raised three children, Greg, David, and Laura. When Todd isn’t around the farm, you can find him spending time with his family at their vacation home in Ventura with his dog Bailey, six grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
When Todd joined the Association in 1969, there were a small amount of growers in the Association. "Almond plantings down here were small because farmers were testing the waters," said Todd. "When I first started, there were no orchards on the Westside because of the water quality and availability."
Todd served on seat six of the Board of Directors from 1986 to 2001. During his 15 years as a board member and over 60 years of farming experience, Todd has watched the Association and the almond industry change. "The expansion of the industry in terms of marketing, growing, custom farm services and the consumption of almonds worldwide continues to increase."
Being 88 years-old hasn’t stopped Todd from doing what he loves. "I just recently replanted 15 acres and this was my first time using the Whole Orchard Recycling program. My farm manager and I have been working together throughout the entire process." Todd expressed that people and education have transformed the industry and has helped farmers like himself produce a great quality product.
Most people at Todd’s age might be ready to retire, but Todd isn’t. "I love the independence that farming brings. This is a chosen life and a life you fight for. I raised my kids in this and this farm will be theirs and my grandchildren’s one day."
James McFarlane is a third-generation farmer in Clovis, CA. James attended
college at Stanford and worked as an engineer for several years. He
returned to his family farm in 1991 and worked alongside his father,
William, known as Bill.
His father, Bill, was a co-founder of the Association. Prior to the Association’s creation in 1963, James’ grandfather, Frank, leased his first property in 1920. In 1948, Frank and Bill became partners and originally farmed row crops until planting almonds in the 1950’s.
“Growing up, I would attend the Association meetings with my father and
all I wanted to do was go home. As I became older, and once I served the
Board of Director’s, I realized how important those meetings were because
there was business to be done.”
James served the Association’s Board of Directors from 2001 to 2022. He
said serving the board was a valuable experience. “I learned a lot about
farming from being around the board. It was an experience that you get
more out of than you put in.”
Since the McFarlane family have been members of the Association from the
beginning, he has seen and contributed to many changes. James said the
volume of member’s acreage has increased drastically from when he first
served the board until now. He was also serving the board during the
change in management in 2005 and the construction of Kerman Plant 3 in
2006. One of the last changes James contributed to while on the board was
the Association’s decision to change the hulling fee from a meat
equivalent to now a delivered basis.
James expressed the importance of the Association not only for himself but
for all members. “This is a shared Association. We are all in business
together and we understand what we all have in common, but also respect
the differences each member has.”
Aside from the Association, he discussed technological changes within the
almond industry, especially irrigation. Additionally, he explained the
importance of having a beneficial fertilizer and pollination program, but
stressed that without an effective irrigation system, the other programs
aren’t as valuable.
When discussing the future of the almond industry, James said the biggest
challenges for farmers revolves around water. “Farmers can only plant what
they have water for. Everyone is chasing after water especially farmers
with permanent crops.” He also discussed the pros and cons of SGMA and how
it will affect farmers.
James is appreciative of his family’s history in farming and the
Association. “My dad set the table for my sisters and I growing up. Now
it’s my turn to set the table up for my daughters.”
The Association truly appreciates his 21 years of service, dedication, and
effort to the Board of Directors.
“My parents used to say by the time I was five, they knew I would be a farmer,” said Jeff McKinney. “I never wanted to do anything else.”
Jeff McKinney is a fourth-generation farmer in Madera, CA. His grandfather J.E. McKinney is originally from Tennessee and moved to California in the 1930’s. His grandfather on his mother’s side, Clayton Brown, was the first of the family to join the Association in the early 1970’s. Jeff’s father, Don McKinney, joined the Association in 1981. Don began serving the Association’s Board of Directors in 1988 and served as the Chairman for five years.
Shortly after graduating college, in 1998, Jeff took over the 400 acres of farming from his grandfather and father. Today, Jeff farms 500 acres of almonds, operates a custom harvesting and farm management business, and recently diversified into commercial properties.
Outside of farming, Jeff’s family (his wife Erin, son Mason, and daughters Lexi and Avery) keep him busy. Erin and Jeff enjoy trips to their Shaver Lake cabin in their free time. Mason works in crop insurance and helps Jeff with farming. Lexi works in interior design and manages property in Arizona. Avery is a senior in high school and will be attending University of Oregon in the Fall.
In 2015 Jeff joined the Board of Directors and became Chairman in 2020. He always knew the time would come for him to serve the Association, and when seat #5 became available, Jeff did not hesitate to run. “My dad was the chairman when Kerman Plant #3 was in the process of being built. I always loved hearing about the progress of the plant.” He noted that since his family’s involvement from the 1970’s, he felt involved with the Association at a young age. “My dad met a lot of people serving the Association’s Board and it benefitted him as a farmer. I felt a calling and wanted that for myself.”
With Jeff’s family being members for over 50 years, he has experienced many changes within the Association. “I remember a time when there wasn’t a stockpile yard at both facilities. The growth of the almondy industry forced our Association to change, and we did exactly that.” Jeff noted that the throughput of the plant’s, the number of trucks running across the scales and efficiency of the equipment and technology has helped make the Association as successful as it is today.
The future of the almond industry looks different for everyone. Jeff said the peak year was in 2020, when the industry produced a 3-billion-pound crop. “There are big changes in all areas ahead of all almond producers. SGMA is going to challenge farmers in producing a crop of that size again.” Water supply, irrigation districts, the cost of equipment and pesticides are some important factors that will affect almond producers for the future.
Although the future of the almond industry is changing, the future of the Association is looking better than ever. “Our management team is never afraid to try something new. The team puts in a lot of effort in learning about what we are considering investing in.” Jeff noted that the decisions management makes are always beneficial and efficient for the Association and its members.
The Association is appreciative of the McKinney family’s service and their efforts on behalf of our members.
"When I first moved to Fresno and started farming with my family, I had no idea what I was doing," said Sam Chimenti. "It took a while for me to learn the business, but I became a Californian."
Sam Chimenti is a second-generation farmer who was born in Puglia, Italy. In the early 1960’s, when Sam was 12, his family moved to New Jersey where they opened a deli and grocery store. "After school, I would get to work at 3:30 and work until 9:30," said Sam.
After selling the family deli in 1973, Sam and his mother took a trip to visit his uncle in California. "My father had no idea where we were going," said Sam. "My uncle kept telling us that the San Joaquin Valley was similar to what life was like in Italy, and he was right."
In late 1973, Sam moved to California with his parents and brother. Sam said it took some time to learn how to become a farmer and often missed New Jersey as the transition to the new family business was challenging. Him and his wife, Marie, live on the first property his father purchased, and today they farm 500 acres of almonds.
Sam and Marie have been married for 44 years. They raised four boys, Frank, Joseph, Patrick, and Sam, have five grandchildren and another on the way. Joseph works closely with his parents managing most of the real estate and assists with the farm. Marie plays a large role in the family business managing all the bookkeeping.
There have been many changes within the almond industry that Sam has experienced in the 50 years he has been farming. "The equipment today is completely different and more advanced than in the past. We have been doing our own harvesting since the beginning and we don’t even need to touch the almond anymore."
Sam’s family have been members of the Association for 49 years. "I have always been taken care of and management has done a great job with returns to the Members." He credited Bob Hines, co-founder of the Association, for paving the way for a strong cooperative.
As for the future, Sam believes the almond industry looks bright for all growers. "We needed the past year so that the market can adjust. Almonds have become versatile. We have the right people farming and the right people promoting and innovating the product."
Sam has a lot of gratitude towards his family. "This is a family business. I am proud of what I built with my family when I was younger, I am proud of what I built with my wife and I am proud to have my children take over one day."
Template Version 1.0 | Image Licensing | Made By Deni Bozo